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OPINION: Stop the killing, South Dakota

By Gregg Spindler

Guest columnist

As the father of Maegan Spindler, I must take issue with The Daily Republic's editorial, "Drunken driving more complex than a drink tax can fix" on Aug. 5.

Let us start with the lab samples from Ron Fischer. It took the state crime lab 11 days to return the results to the Charles Mix County Sheriff. The samples were sent via U.S. mail, not by courier, even though it was a double homicide. Apparently (according to Lt. Welsh of the S.D. Highway Patrol as quoted in the Argus Leader) an "analyzer" was out of town; we assume one person was on vacation. How is it possible the state crime lab is so under-resourced it could possibly take 11 days to return alcohol results in a double homicide, necessary to make an arrest?

We also have the issue (again, from Lt. Welsh) that Ron Fischer was not arrested at the hospital because the state or county didn't want to pay the hospital bill. How can this be? Fischer was allowed to go home to tribal land as a free man on discharge from the hospital.

The editorial's claim that a $3 beer would have a 31-cent tax is untrue; that is an example of a sales tax. An excise tax is levied prior to sale on the wholesale cost to the retailer. A cheap 12 pack costing $6 might have a tax of 60 cents. It would be largely transparent to the consumer. It is a "user fee" to pay for the social consequences of alcohol. While most people can drink responsibly, many do not. Currently the costs of DUI or other alcohol-related crimes are being socialized across all taxpayers. Does South Dakota like this form of socialism?

Let it suffice to say that South Dakota has a big problem. Being able to claim "we are less bad than North Dakota or Wyoming" really doesn't cut it, does it? The U.S. is well behind the curve with reducing DUI death and injury.

Why should the public accept such random carnage?

The costs of DUI in your state amount to $200 million per year. In the sad case of Maegan and Rob Klumb, lost earnings amount to probably $6 million. The cost of prosecuting and incarcerating Ron Fischer for 30 or 40 years of life (which he deserves) will cost $2 million. Just who is supposed to get stuck with these losses, if not the users of the product?

We pay for roads with a gasoline tax. We pay for airline security with excise taxes and fees. Why should alcohol be any different?

Lastly, the only way to reduce DUI is through highly visible enforcement. What occurs today is reactive, not proactive. As a result, more people are being killed and maimed. When is the last time you saw a sobriety checkpoint in locations known to have high DUI incidence? How can this be paid for, if not with a dedicated tax? The only way to reduce DUI is to have increased enforcement and make the consequences severe enough so it is a deterrent.

Stop the needless killing, South Dakota. Adopt best practices to stop DUI. Don't accept anything less. Set an example for the entire nation.

Gregg Spindler, Cazenovia, N.Y., is the father of Maegan Spindler, 25, who was killed July 8 in a crash in Pickstown.